Allen Ginsberg and Tom Schwartz on John Milton – 3

Bartholomeo Better (1639-1699) – oil on canvas – “Still Life With Instruments and Books”

Allen Ginsberg’s 1980 Naropa class on John Milton (with assistance from Tom Schwartz) continues from here.

AG: I want to read one thing I’ve got here – [reads] –  “One needs scarcely elaborate on Milton’s use of music or on his father’s musical accomplishment, He had contact with the most prominent musicians in England (both in English and Italian) through his father with Nicholas Lanier,  (Thomas) Ravenscroft, (Alfonso) Ferrabosco, through the Comus production with Henry Lawes‘  – (he one long…he made a long masque, “Comus”, which was set to music by Henry Lawes – “Lawes and Jenkyns..” – what is it? – give thee rest?  be thy guest? – I’ve forgot – So that’s pretty high-class, right on the main line in music in England – I hadn’t known that) – “While he was important at Hornton School- (College, I guess) – he journeyed to London to learn something new in mathematics or in music at which, at the time, he found a source of pleasure and amusement. His earliest poetic efforts, the Psalms immediately suggested singing, as does the “Hymn to Nativity” ode.”

AG: (to TS): .. Can you..  Is there anything more you can say about all of this stuff?  – “Lycidas” or anything,

TS: “Lycidas” is..

AG: Did you get any single…any single clear ideas about it?

TS: No. there was in that, a..

AG: Why don’t you take over from here?

TS: “Lycidas” is a dramatic.. can be seen as a monody, for one voice, but can also be seen as a  dramatic presentation, with singing.

AG: “Lycidas” is in our book, you know, it’s an elegy for a friend. Has anybody read “Lycidas”? yes?

TS: It’s an elegy, but..

AG: I said we should read all through Milton. Did anybody do it? Did anybody do any reading at all?…or the… who knows? .. I’m afraid… How many read all of the Milton in the Norton Anthology? – Nobody – How many read some of it?  – Ok – Anybody read “Lycidas”? – No? – well, it’s a beautiful thing. The main… We can’t understand the later Shelley unless we’ve read “Lycidas” (pardon me, we can understand both, but if you know the “Lycidas”, you know that Shelley’s “Adonais” took off from the example of Milton’s “Lycidas”, so it’s useful to have that.).

TS:  Or anyway, you have the long lines and that occasionally breaks into shorter lines, and those are..  he said, could easily be sung or chanted by, like, a Greek chorus,

AG: Oh really?

TS: Yes, and that’s where they..started losing me when they got into the iambic five-foot lines (that’s a three-two, or three-four, meter) in which the three large beats sub-divides into twos and ..I’m not a musican, so..

AG (to Student): Do you know what that means? what he’s saying, and stuff. You’re a musician, aren’t you? – Who’s a musician here? Where’s…

Student: Could you repeat that?

AG: He knows something

TS: Let’s see..

AG: He’s a musician, he knows something.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-nine minutes in and continuing till approximately forty-one-and-three quarter minutes in]

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